The Death Of A Dream -- It Took 28 Days For Joe Gottstein To Build His Track, And 57 Years For His Family To Sell It


-- Bob Schwarzmann covered Longacres for The Times for 26 years. When he retired in 1987, Longacres named a race after him, a $20,000 claimer for 4-year-olds and up. Today, Schwarzmann recalls ``Uncle Joe'' Gottstein, the founder of the track, and the special memories left behind.


RENTON - Joe Gottstein's dream lived 57 years. His grandsons wrote its obituary yesterday.

Gottstein, by the force of his personality, carved Longacres out of the sub-alluvial soil of the old Jim Nelsen farm in 28 days during the middle of the Great Depression.

From the afternoon the track opened on Aug. 3, 1933, Longacres was considered throughout the industry as one of the most beautiful and successful race tracks in the nation.

Gottstein, a football and wrestling star at Brown University, was smart, tough, compassionate. He would, when he thought no one was looking, slip money to a destitute trainer or groom so they could get to the next track. He never expected to be repaid.

Uncle Joe, as the race-trackers affectionately called him, was dedicated to making Longacres a showpiece. He considered Santa Anita the greatest track in America. Whenever an employee asked Gottstein for advice on a particular problem, he would say: ``Do it they way they do at Santa Anita.''

The Longacres Mile, a graded race, was created by Gottstein in 1935. It was the track's major race from its first running, which had a value of $10,000. When Snipledo won the Mile last month, the race was worth more than $300,000.

Gottstein made certain Longacres ran its own profitable parking and food/beverage concessions, something other professional teams do not. On occasion, the track was called the Little Mint of the West.

Gottstein spend his winters at Santa Anita. Through the friendships he gained there, he was able to attract the nation's top jockeys and Thoroughbreds to Longacres.

Eddie Arcaro and Johnny Longden rode to victory in the Longacres Mile. They had lounges at the track named for them. Bill Hartack, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Bill Shoemaker pulled down the Pacific Northwest's big prize.

Washington ranks fifth nationally in the thoroughbred-breeding industry. Gottstein formed the powerful Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association. After he died Jan. 1, 1971, the name of the premier race for 2-year-olds was changed from the Washington Futurity to the Joe Gottstein Futurity.

As for the greatest horses to run at Longacres. That argument could go for years - Amble In, Two And Twenty, Kings Favor (Gottstein's), Bad 'N Big, Trooper Seven, Chinook Pass, Simply Majestic.

At least one vote goes to Turbulator, who was bred, owned and trained by Tom Crawford of Spokane.

The Washington-bred gelding had been knocking off everything in sight at Playfair. However, the sophisticated Longacres patrons gave little notice until Crawford turned his gelding loose here in 1970. That was the year he set the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs while winning the Governor's Handicap.

Crawford, who once described himself with a drawl as the former mayor of Hope, Ark., the ``watermelon capital of the world,'' would have fit into the category of ``character.''

But Joe Boyce, who had the entire press corps cringing when he climbed atop the metal press-box roof and jumped up and down while Dr. John H. was winning the 1962 Longacres Derby, was in a class all his own.

It was Boyce on another occasion who bounded into the winner's circle, lifted the tail of his victorious horse and planted a kiss. Gottstein banned him from the grounds for that. Boyce was back in a couple of days.

Larry Pierce, Turbulator's regular rider, got his name in the books as three-time champion. And, on May 20, 1972, he set a North American record by winning with seven of his eight mounts. Sparrow Castle was a study. His trainer was Glen Williams, who later became Longacres racing secretary. The Washington-bred 4-year-old was winning all his races in 1961 under Jim Craswell. A few days before the Mile, Craswell's leg was broken in a spill.

Williams went back to New York to get a local boy who made good. Jack Leonard had grown up around Longacres before becoming an outstanding rider back East. He agreed to ride the colt in the Mile. The Sparrow beat Dusky Damion by a nose for the $24,150 first money. The owner, David Brazier, Sr., gave Craswell a share of the prize. Craswell has been Longacres' clocker and identifier in recent years.

Smogy Dew took part in one of the great races. She entered the 1964 Longacres Derby to challenge the males. Among them was George Royal.

Smoggy Dew went to the front immediately and then held off a great stretch challenge by the Canadian colt. No filly won the Derby after that. George Royal went on to win the 1965 and 1966 San Juan Capistralo Handicaps at Santa Anita. The 1966 win was the last ride of John Longden's career.

Gottstein held out against the so-called exotic bets. There was the traditional daily double. There were no exactas, quinellas or trifectas. In 1985, the short-lived Pick Six was introduced. That year a winning $2 Pick Six ticket was held by some guy identified only as ``Eric of Philadelphia.'' He collected $374,929, the most ever paid out for a single bet at Longacres. Many locals still believe ``Eric'' was a messenger for an East Coast betting syndicate.

Morrie Alhadeff, Gottstein's son-in-law, became Longacres president upon Joe's death in 1971. He basically had been in charge during Joe's final years.

The track progressed under Morrie's stewardship. He put in the Gazebo at the north end of the stands, expanded the Club House, opened the Paddock Club, put in lights for night racing. The largest crowd in history, 25,031, turned out in 1981 to watch Trooper Seven become the first horse to win consecutive Longacres Miles. The betting handle that day, $2,770,179, never was exceeded.

Morrie Alhadeff turned the operation of the track over to his sons, Mike and Ken, in the fall of 1988. Less than two years later, they sold their grandfather's dream to Boeing.


Who's who


Joe Gottstein: Longacres founder ran the track from 1933 until his death from cancer in 1971.

Luella Gottstein: Joe's second wife, who lived in a cottage behind the tote board each summer racing season, was associated with Longacres from its opening until her death 11 months ago at the age of 81. Her death caused a shift of the family stock, eventually leading to the sale.

Joanne Alhadeff: Joe Gottstein's daughter, Morrie Alhadeff's wife, mother of Michael and Ken Alhadeff.

Morrie Alhadeff: Gottstein's son-in-law. For 17 years (until 1988), he was the track's president; then became chairman of the board.

Michael Alhadeff: Morrie's eldest son and president of Longacres since 1988. He was general manager from 1972-1988.

Ken Alhadeff: Morrie's younger son and Longacres senior vice president. He directs business and development operations, including satellite wagering.